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Inside the Princeton University Band… and their plastic Santa

Decked out in eye-catching orange and black checkered suits and topped off with their signature boaters, the Princeton University band Princeton University is not hard to spot on the Princeton campus. Whether they're storming the athletic fields, huddled together in a lunchroom, or performing their traditional song across campus on Dean's Date Eve, the band shows up everywhere.

Amidst the intense intellectual environment of the University, the Band offers an outlet for entertainment and comic relief, a sentiment so critical to the identity of the Band that it is reflected in its constitution. As Article 0: The Purpose of the Band states, “The Princeton University Band exists primarily for the enjoyment of its members and the entertainment of the university community.”

At an Ivy institution League where student groups often maintain high barriers to entry and demand significant commitment from their members, the Band stands out.

Inherent in the mission of the Princeton University Band is inclusion and, perhaps ironically for Princeton, the low expectations, something band members believe is more easily achieved as a result of their identity as a non-traditional music band.

Unlike a typical marching band, the Princeton Band does not march at all. Like a 'scramble band,' instead of marching between songs, "we'll be running and literally running back and forth, either doing jumping jacks or running around chasing each other," explained Thomas Hontz '22, the band's bandleader. band.

According to the band's drum major, Henry Erdman '23, the scrambling is "a cross between a fire drill, a Black Friday sale at Macy's, and a final school bell, all on the field in front of fans. It's a very fun moment."

This move gives the student body a fun and carefree image of the band. Christian Hernandez '22, who enjoys watching the Band at football games, thinks these performances "They represent the extravagance of Princeton."

Colby McArthur '24, a member of The Band, said that, compared to the competitive marching band of his high school, the Princeton Band is "much more relaxed". For students who have other time-consuming campus commitments, whether they're extracurriculars, research, campus jobs or other activities, "the band will always have time for you," according to Hontz.

McArthur echoed that I feel you "[The Band is] a lot of fun and it's a bit liberating in a way that a lot of clubs in Princeton aren't," he said.

The Band's flexibility with other student obligations is reflected in the time commitment expected of its members. While the Band practices twice a week, rehearsals are always optional and Band members can perform at games regardless of rehearsal attendance.

Hontz recalls being welcomed into the Band with the open arms even before enrolling in the University.

“My brother, who was a year older than me at the time, was already here… he had joined the Band,” he said. Hontz explained that when the band members found out he was coming to visit, they said to his older brother, “Oh, is your brother coming to play? Cold. Give him a uniform.

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He continued: "I got to play trombone with the Band before I was officially a student here."

"Personally, I'm a champion of groups that have little commitment, don't have auditions, or aren't extremely selective," Hontz said."And I love the inclusive nature of [the Band]."

Part of what makes the Princeton Band so inclusive is that no musical talent is expected of members. Anyone is welcome. As Erdman says, to join the band, all you have to do is "show up!"

“Even if you are at a football game… you walk up to us and we throw a plaid jacket and a piece of trash at you and you can hit him or an inst rumento,” Erdman added.


And the Band practices what it preaches. In early October, the band sent out an email to the campus community inviting anyone, with or without musical experience, to join them on an all-expenses-paid trip to Brown University for a football game. Alaina Joby '24 was one of the students who took advantage of this opportunity, although she had never played with any band before.

"I was in their 'Garbussion' section hitting a plastic flamingo with a drumstick," Joby recalled. “I loved the weird looks we got from people.”

The Band's "Garbussion" section, a playful combination of the words trash and percussion, is designed for those who choose not to play instruments or are unable to. Members of the section play what Erdman calls "non-traditional percussion instruments" and often bang on stop signs, street signs, and toilet seats. One of the most emblematic instruments of "Garbussion" is the famous plastic Santa Claus.

While the true origin story of Santa is a mystery to the Band members, McArthur explained Santa's supposed origins. “I think at some point, someone donated a plastic Santa, and it's really loud when you hit it with a baseball bat. So they started using it as an instrument and I guess it became fashionable and now it has become very iconic for the band."

"It's kind of a meme right now," said Chloe Holland '22, the band's president. He also shared that the band members and the student body in general enjoy hitting. “It makes a really satisfying sound… It's cathartic.”

Creative elements, like the now-iconic plastic Santa Claus, are decided by the Band as a whole. "It's very much a group effort from all the band members," Erdman said. “We had a couple of meetings where we got together and thought, 'Okay, what do we think is funny?'”

Beyond appearances at sports games, the Band has performed flash mobs in dining rooms this semester. Leaders have also hinted at a possible April Fools' and Valentine's Day march for the spring semester.

The Band recently reinstated its famous tradition of playing campus-wide on Dean's Date Eve, the night before most finals are due, after a three-semester hiatus of virtual finals. For Hernández, tradition motivates him not to postpone.

“I appreciate when they go to Dean's date and make some noise,” Hernandez said. "I make sure to finish my Dean's Date assignments because of the band. I don't want to listen to them while I'm trying to send something!"

Holland has a message for all you Dean's Date crammers. “If you choose to be at Firestone when we're there,” says Holland, “it's your own fault. We are not trying to upset anyone. We're just trying to spread a little cheer on campus."

And indeed, both band members and non-members report that the band manages to stay true to its constitution. Through its comedic performances, game and campus appearances, and an inclusive membership policy, Band strives to infuse Princeton culture with a touch of humor and fun.

As Hontz puts it: " That's how I think music should be."

Julie Levey is an assistant features editor for The Daily Princetonian. She can be reached at

Tori Tinsley is an Assistant Feature Editor and Style Editor on the staff of The Daily Princetonian. She can be reached at

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